For the Volvo Enthusiast

Project XC90 T6: H&R Suspension Upgrade

On any project, suspension tuning can be either a highly effective upgrade or make your car’s ride considerably worse. In most cases though, such upgrades can be graded on a bell curve, with most having both up-sides and down.

Suspension isn’t a cheap bolt-on affair, so it pays to know what you’re getting yourself into. Doing your research and asking around on places like the web for people who’ve done it before is wise and can save you money. Swedespeed’s Project XC90 had a ride a bit softer than we’d like, and leaned into curves more than we’d prefer. Wanting to improve on both counts, performance shocks and springs were first on the list to consider.

The Volvo XC90 is not the darling of the tuner world. It’s a capable and attractive family hauler to be sure, but throngs of autocrossing enthusiasts don’t mob tuners for just these sorts of parts, so only a few options exist. German tuner Heico Sportiv offers springs ($359) and a full kit of springs and shocks at all four corners ($1,599). Tuned at the Nurburgring and made to Heico specifications, the full kit probably offers the best-sorted ride but it is also the most expensive. Somewhere in-between, German-based H&R offers a kit of springs and rear shocks ($849) intended for XC90s and a good budget choice for those equipped with self-leveling Nivamat shocks � standard on our T6. The H&R setup is less expensive, though its use of two of the four factory shocks suggest it may not be as sorted as the full-fledged Heico kit. For some, the ultimate suspension is worth every penny, for others on a budget with Nivamat, the H&R setup is the way to go.

We chose the H&R kit with rear shocks for our Nivamat-equipped XC90 T6. Ordered from H&R and also available through IPD, the suspension arrived quickly and we scheduled an appointment at nearby Swedish Motors in Marietta, PA for installation.

Without a lift, it’s best to leave this job to a capable shop. Also worth noting, you should ask the shop to retain your original Nivamat shocks. Replacement of these components is very expensive, so if you ever wish to re-install, you’ll be happy you kept them.

Installed, the XC90 is notably lower at both front and rear. There is no rubbing, even with our larger oversized 20-inch Heico Sportiv alloy wheels at full compression. However, the rear suspension camber gets visibly negative � great for a track car, but not optimum for a road-going family hauler rolling on expensive 20-inch Pirelli rubber.

Running the 20-inch alloys presented a problem we hadn’t expected. Swedish Motors was unable to align our XC90 due to the oversized wheels, and we met the same problem at our local Volvo dealership. Out of curiosity, we decided to drive the several months until we’d install our winter tires and gauge tire wear as if we might be an owner unaware they needed to do so.

What wasn’t available when we first installed our suspension, though now we’d certainly make a point of purchasing at the time of installation, is IPD’s Rear Camber Kit for the XC90. Given the negative camber of our setup and likely any lowered XC90, the IPD kit wouldn’t take it to a true 0-degrees, but it’d get the rear wheels much closer to stock spec and lengthen tire tread life. Several months of driving including a long road trip to Maine left our Pirellis worn on the inside, but not ruined. The IPD kit would likely minimize this and we highly recommend including it when you do any lowering upgrade � either the H&R or the Heico Sportiv solution.

Lowered as it is now, our H&R-equipped XC90 gives up a bit of ground clearance for a more car-like stance that also bestows it a with more of a wagon-like look.

On the road, the ride is stiffer and more controlled, though it still leans as we expected so we plan a swaybar upgrade in the near future. On smooth roads, suspension quality is not compromised, though rough roads and potholes do bring out some harshness and we’ve even bottomed out the shocks � something we hadn’t done before. No doubt, our XC90’s 20-inch wheels contribute to this, though we still noted some rough-road harshness on the stock 18s once our winter tires went on.

On long sweepers and in corners, the XC90 is still a bit top heavy, though handling is considerably improved. It hunkers down into corners with skill it didn’t have previously. All in all, we’d grade the H&R kit at a B+. It’s not perfectly sorted and has some rough road harshness. Use of the stock shocks is the culprit, but the setup is more affordable and saves us from potentially blowing out the T6’s Nivamat shocks, replacements of which cost as much as the entire H&R setup.


Project XC90 Main Page

H&R Suspension

IPD Camber Kit for XC90

For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums to the left.
For more photos of this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.